Level 1, me - Brian C. Allen, t'ai chi, t'ai chi handouts

My Taijiquan Lineage and the Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man Ch’ing) Form

I first want to discuss my lineage. My teacher is Chung-jen Chang, originally from Taiwan, now currently residing in Bowie, MD. He studied with several different teachers in Taiwan, but he considers Lin Ah Long, from whom he learned Yang style taiji and sword, to be his primary teacher. Chung-jen never speaks of his lineage unless I ask specific questions, and it has been very rare that he ever brings up one of his teachers other than the rare occasion that he mentions Lin Ah Long. His focus is on the teaching itself, and, by far, the most emphasized part of the teaching is “emptiness.”

I also almost never speak of lineage. I wrote this article to serve as a reference for my students and to serve as a reference for inquiries from the internet and elsewhere because the question of my lineage does comes up from time to time, and I do not have all of this information memorized. Now, I can just give people the link to this article when they ask me.

Here are the various lineages leading to Chung-jen Chang based on my own research regarding his own teachers. Any errors are not intentional, and if you have more accurate information, please bring it to my attention.

Yang Style Lineage:

Yang Banhou ⇒ Miao Lien ⇒ Li Shoujian ⇒ Xiong Wei ⇒ Lin Ah Long ⇒ Chung-jen Chang


Yang Shaohou ⇒ Li Shoujian ⇒ Xiong Wei ⇒ Lin Ah Long ⇒ Chung-jen Chang

Li Shoujian in the Yang style lineages above is a recognized disciple of Yang family taiji. He did not study the large frame method of Yang Chengfu. He learned from an earlier generation, studying a small frame method which emphasized tight movements, explosive power, and firm, deep stances. He studied directly with Yang Shaohou. He also studied with Miao Lien. Miao Lien studied both with Yang Banhou and some Daoist Wudang line of internal arts. I do not have any information about the Wudang line, but I do know that it had some influence on Li Shoujian’s taiji.

I have seen Lin Ah Long and some of his students play the Zheng Manqing form and part of another Yang form. Chung-jen Chang plays the form with a slightly smaller frame and with some minor variations in the specifics of the choreography.

Zhaobao Small Frame (Hulei Jia) Lineage:

Chen Qingping ⇒ Li Jingyan ⇒ Yang Hu ⇒ Chen Yingde ⇒ Wang Jinrang ⇒ Xiong Wei ⇒ Chung-jen Chang

There is a lot of controversy regarding this style of taiji. It is different than both traditional Chen style taiji and Zhaobao style taiji from Mainland China. To top it off, Xiong Wei plays the form much differently than his teacher. Xiong Wei has more obvious tight spirals that are very smooth and require much more relaxed flexibility and relaxed strength. The explosive power looks softer and reverberates in several fast successive waves out of the body. Additionally, Xiong Wei developed a set of 12 exercises known as Taiji Daoyin which were derived from the form itself. The set and the form develop full body connection with tight spirals, coordinated breathing, and a soft explosive power. Additionally, athletes and dancers from all over the world have traveled to Taiwan to study the Taiji Daoyin set to improve their flexibility, strength, and performance. Oddly, though the movements of the daoyin set are from the Zhaobao small frame form, the inspiration for the method behind the set came from Xiong Wei’s recognition of the power in the limb rotations of his Yang style teacher, Li Shoujian. The development of the daoyin set informed Xiong Wei’s changes in the Zhaobao taiji form.

Also, after my teacher moved from Taiwan, Lin Ah Long (his Yang style teacher) studied the Zhaobao small frame (hulei jia) method from Xiong Wei, from whom he also previously learned the Yang style. While residing in California, I was lucky enough to meet and visit with Tim Cartmell who also studied this form, though he studied it with Lin Ah Long rather than from Xiong Wei as my teacher did. Of note, Tim Cartmell spoke highly of Lin Ah Long’s fighting ability as an internal martial artist. My teacher, of course, seconds that.

I also want to mention that Xiong Wei studied Hao style taiji.

Hao Yueru ⇒ Zhou Zhenglin ⇒ Xiong Wei

My teacher did not learn Hao style from him, but I must note that the Hao style also uses a small frame method. I bring this up because of the large amount of small frame influences my teacher has had.

Chen Style (Laojia) Lineage:

Chen Fake ⇒ Pan Wing Chow (Pan Yongzhou) ⇒ Chung-jen Chang


Chen Yan-Xi ⇒ Du Yu Ze ⇒ Chung-jen Chang

My teacher studied Yilu with Pan Wing Chow. I have seen Pan Wing Chow do laojia yilu and my teacher’s version of the form is a bit different. My teacher plays the form with a bit smaller frame, deeper stance, and more obvious spiraling. My opinion is that this is from the Taiji Daoyin influence from Xiong Wei. I also want to note that Pan Wing Chow practiced and taught small frame Chen style also, but that it was the large frame method that Chung-jen had studied with him.

My teacher studied Erlu with Du Yu Ze. This was large frame Chen style laojia erlu. Of interest, Du Yu Zu’s teacher was Chen Fake’s father. Therefore, Du Yu Zu learned Chen style taiji before any of the changes were made to it attributable to Chen Fake. Du Yu Ze also practiced and taught hulei jia (see above in the Zhaobao section), but this is not what Chung-jen Chang learned from him. I bring this up to note that Du Yu Ze also practiced a small frame method. I have seen Du Yu Ze play laojia erlu. My teacher’s erlu frame looks similar to that of Du Yu Ze’s, however, my teacher moves more smoothly and has a slightly smaller and more obvious spiraling. Again, I think this is an influence from the Taiji Daoyin of Xiong Wei.

What did I study with Chung-jen Chang?

I have learned (and am still always learning more, of course) Yang style taiji via the Zheng Manqing form and Yang style taiji straight sword along with a very large body of jibengong and partner exercises. Where the Yang style sword form comes from will have to be a topic of another article. I have also learned Chen style yilu and erlu, though that is not the main focus of my practice. Additionally, I have learned part of the total set of Taiji Daoyin.

As previously mentioned, I do not talk much of lineage. I see the value in it, but I also know that good lineage does not guarantee that a student of that lineage will automatically acquire good skills. Also depending on the teaching abilities and disposition of the teachers in that lineage, some information might not even be taught due to secrecy or inability to articulate and transmit to a willing and apt student.

Also, I did not learn from anyone in my lineage except from my teacher, so in essence, my taiji comes from him, Chung-jen Chang style. I do experiment a lot with the things that I learn with my excellent training partner. I also have been exposed to a lot of taiji and other internal martial arts literature and videos. I have seen many live demonstrations and have been to some workshops. Therefore, though Chung-jen Chang is my teacher, ultimately, my taiji is just my taiji, for better or worse. I do work and will continue to work to try to get down all of the skills my teacher has to offer.

Why do I do the Zheng Manqing sequence?

Well, the short answer is that it was the form that I was taught. Goodnight.

Seriously, though, I have wondered this myself. Upon asking my teacher why his teacher taught that form, he stated that it was because the form was very popular in Taiwan. People liked the idea of a short form.

What are the implications of all of this, then? As you can see above, Zheng Manqing appears nowhere in my lineage, and I have never made claims to Zheng Manqing’s taiji lineage. Claiming such is not important to me, either.

So, can it really be said that I practice and teach his form? I do not know. Perhaps I should say that I teach the sequence. The form that I practice and teach is the same group of movements in the same sequence as the 37-Posture Zheng Manqing short form. I do know there are some stylistics differences in the choreography. My form looks different than my teachers form, also, though not for lack of trying to copy him. I am just not there yet. His form looks different than his teacher’s form, too, as I explained above. I think that it is probably more important what your body and your mind is doing on the inside that counts as long as the outside is not blatantly violating taiji principles. Especially for beginners, the outside shape is, of course, very important, but what makes it an internal art has to do with what the body and mind is doing while in those shapes and what the body and mind does in order to get those shapes to change.

I use the form as a vehicle to practice taiji. While practicing, my body has to be shaped like something, and then if I am doing moving practice, my body has to change into another shape, so a common sequence of movements, such as the Zheng Manqing 37-posture short form, makes for a convenient vehicle for practice.

I want to make it clear, though, that I am also NOT claiming that I am doing the same thing that Zheng Manqing is doing on the inside. I have no idea what he is doing on the inside. I never looked into it, and I never received instruction from him or any of his students. At this point in time, it is not important to me. I am, however, trying to duplicate what my teacher is teaching me to do, internally speaking. If I can get his skills down, I will be ecstatic. Chung-jen speaks very highly of his teacher, Lin Ah Long, and has recently stated that now Lin Ah Long is doing something different yet. I suppose that there are different internal engines that vary by differing degrees. At some point, I would like to study with Lin Ah Long in Taiwan, if only for a short time, but I still have a lot of work to do with my teacher here.

So, there it all is. I have stated my lineage to the best of my knowledge, and I have stated why I practice and teach the 37-posture Zheng Manqing short form. Now, enough of all of this, and let us get back to practice.

acupuncture, addiction therapy, chinese herbs, me - Brian C. Allen, my business - OMHS, qigong, t'ai chi, testimonials, tuina bodywork


This post contains testimonials regarding my business and the many services that I offer.

I will continue to edit and add onto this post as I get more testimonials. If you want your testimonial to appear here, please email me at info@firstchoice-acupuncture.com with the information. You will remain anonymous, as only initials are used.

Thank you all for your support and for your kind words.

“I have had to take large doses of narcotics and muscle relaxers because of lingering or increasing sciatica for quite some time. One acupuncture treatment from Brian and a few days later the sciatica was gone! Amazing!” – S.W.

“If you are tired of taking pills with lots of side effects, you should contact Brian Allen for alternatives. I contacted him for several different things and the results were amazing. My legs were bothering me and with acupuncture and liniment, they have improved. My neck bothered me another time. On a scale of 1-10, pain was a 12 & with 2 acupuncture treatments, I felt much better & pain was gone. Hot flashes were severe and with Chinese medicine, they are a thing of the past. For results without a lot of pills, for a caring person that takes time to find out the problem instead of rushing you in & out, you only have to look to Brian. Brian has made a difference in the quality of my health that even coworkers have noticed. He can make a difference in yours too.” – C.W.

“At first I didn’t know what to expect because I’d never had any type of massage before. But the moment after Brian started working on my back,I just melted into the chair. It was wonderfully relaxing.” – J.F.

“I sought acupuncture out about 4 months ago to help with my infertility issues. I found Brian’s practice online and gave him a call…. After meeting Brian right away I felt comfortable. Before I would have never considered acupuncture…..kept thinking it is weird and it would hurt. Brian answered all my questions and always showed how much he cared. After a few sessions, I felt like a pro…. and I became more and more relax. I noticed benefits of the treatments right away; I would feel more relaxed throughout the day and found that tackling tasks would seem easier than before. In addition, I have not had cramps related to my period since treatments (wow were the cramps BAD!!)…. I would definitely recommend Brian to all my friends…. (don’t be afraid)… it works.”– K.M.

Joint Opening and Loosening DVD, me - Brian C. Allen, my business - OMHS, qigong, t'ai chi

Joint Opening and Loosening Exercises – Upcoming DVD Release

I am currently working on a video project currently that will result in an instructional DVD for joint opening and loosening exercises as taught in my qìgōng (氣功) and tàijí (t’ai chi -太極) classes. I have finished all of the filming, almost 2 hours of footage, but still need to do much editing. The target price is set at $20. I want it to keep it inexpensive so that it is accessible to more people.

The DVD has its own Facebook page HERE.

It is Qìgōng.

The joint opening and loosening exercise set makes for an excellent daily qìgōng routine. It is relatively simple to perform and only takes between 10 to 15 minutes to complete depending on pace. By opening and loosening the joints, you are also helping to open the acupuncture channels in the body, thereby aiding in the circulation of your qì and blood. There is a saying in China that roughly translates to “a used door hinge never rots.” Regular practice of this set while working on becoming more correct in how you do the set will bring you many worthwhile benefits.

It is also Jīběngōng (基本功).

Jīběngōng translates roughly as basic exercises. This set of joint opening and loosening exercises serves as a set of basic training exercises for developing foundational skills in tàijí. Having open and loose joints is a requirement in tàijí, and in my opinion is an important part of the “sinking” that is also part of tàijí. Doing this set regularly and correctly will help build part of your martial arts foundation.

The DVD consists of 4 parts, not counting opening and closing remarks.

Part 1 of the DVD is a demonstration of the set of exercises for the purpose of following along in order to memorize the sequence or to serve as a reference. I have uploaded part 1 to YouTube as a freebie, and it can be found here:

If you have not yet subscribed to my YouTube channel so that you never miss a new video of mine,  please click here to subscribe.

Part 2 of the DVD consists of a breakdown of how to do the individual movements. There is much more to it than meets the eye. Based on appearances, this is a simple set of range of motion exercises for the major joints of the body. If done conventionally, this set has value in that is keeps you moving and able to maintain range of motion into your old age if practiced carefully and daily. However, I do these movements in a specific manner driven by awareness. Done this way, this set is a vehicle for discovery of what it means for a joint to be open and how to maintain that openness. Having open joints, in my opinion, is not only a basic requirement for internal martial arts and for allowing forces to pass through the body, but it is also an important part of good qìgōng, allowing for better circulation of the and blood. I feel that if physical forces can get stuck in your body at certain points, then the and blood flow can be negatively affected at those points as well.

Learning the material in this part of the DVD is very important, otherwise you will not get beyond the conventional, and you will miss out on all the additional benefits to be had. It is difficult to explain in writing about the “how to,” but there are two general things to keep in mind while doing the set. 1) You must relaxedly extend outwards so it is as if the body is expanded in a non-forced manner. The wording is a bit weird when you consider that there are certain angles involved with some of the movements, but I hope you get the drift of that idea. It is much clearer in the video instruction. 2) Care must be taken to not involve any muscles / parts of the body that are not actually necessary for the movements. Use only enough to allow the movements to happen. You would be surprised at how much unnecessary movement you do all day long without even realizing it, much of which makes you very non efficient.

It is also important to note that you will be able to learn much of what I explain by watching, thoroughly contemplating, and practicing the movements as indicated in part 2. However, hands-on instruction is the best method for learning this type of material. If you do decide to practice this on your own, you can always schedule a private lesson with me for corrections and pointers for improvement.

Part 3 of the DVD is also very important for learning this set correctly. It contains methods for testing whether or not you are doing the movements correctly. This requires another person to administer light physical challenges for you to overcome while performing the movements of the set. If you become impeded by your tester, then you have become “stuck,” which indicates that the joint(s) being tested are not really open and loose. Having physical force get stuck in your body like this indicates that your flow has also stagnated. There are degrees of being stuck, and it is typical for beginners to be very stuck. As you improve, you may be partially stuck, but the goal is to not be stuck at all. Therefore, this testing is a very important part of gauging your progress. People can easily fool themselves with practices like this, so a testing method like this adds accountability to the process. The tests that I show in the DVD are not the only tests. You can come up with your own tests once you get the idea of the function of the tests and how they are done.

Part 4 of the DVD has me demonstrating what having open and loose joints could possibly do in self-defense situations. When a person comes at you using force, and you have trained yourself so those forces do not get stuck within you, then your movements are much freer than they would be without that training. This section is not meant to teach self-defense or to be comprehensive. It is only demonstrations of a few scenarios so you get the idea of the potential uses.

Overall, this will be a good DVD for beginners or for those who want to take a look at these practices of qìgōng and tàijí beyond the superficial and conventionally apparent. Also, you will be able to learn a good amount of what I am trying to teach just by your diligence. I know many think that learning internal practices from video is not possible, and I have kept that in mind. The basics that I show are within your grasp. A release date has not been set yet, but I will keep you updated with posts here about it. After the initial round of editing, I will soon be posting a sample trailer of the DVD so that you can get a sense of its content.

my business - OMHS, qigong, t'ai chi

Can I try a class for free? Can I pay by the class?

As a qìgōng (氣功) and tàijí (t’ai chi -太極) instructor, I get these two questions frequently. The answers are simple. Yes. No. However, there is more to the answers than meets the ear. Let me explain.

Can I try a class for free?

When people ask me this question, I always think the same thing, but I do say, “Yes.” So, what is it that I am thinking? Well, there are two main thoughts that go through my head.

  1. Would you go to any other professional or business and ask the same? Would you go to a dentist and say, “Could you just clean one tooth for free so I can try it out?” Would you go to a restaurant and say, “Could I try out an entrée for free so I know if I like it or not?” I realize that people want to be satisfied when they are paying for something. I completely understand. However, people sell products and services, and often the only way to find out your level of satisfaction is to commit. There are exceptions, of course, but we are all trying to make a living. I am trying to run a business, but I do want your business. So, I keep these thoughts to myself, and I say, “Sure, when would you like to get started?”

  2. This is not a typical exercise class. This is not like a step class or an aerobics class where you show up, follow along with what the teacher does for an hour, put in your time, go home, and do not think about it or do again until next class where you once again mindlessly follow your teacher’s exercise routine. Furthermore, there is much more to the movements than meets the eye. You may see me raise my arms, but if you were to try to duplicate that, you would raise your arms up in a similar looking fashion, but you would not know how I was raising my arms. Most of what goes on in the classes is about learning a new way to move. Easily for the first 6 weeks or so, most students are just trying to grasp the concept that there is such a thing as a different way to use one’s body. Sure, they are learning the choreography of movements, but they still have no clue otherwise. It is frustrating for them. Memorizing movements can be frustrating. Facing your body’s bad and inefficient habits can be frustrating and challenging to your ego. Trying to learn a new way to use your body can be frustrating. Students are typically frustrated for many months during the initial stages of learning. Those that have faith in the process will stick with it despite those initial frustrations, and they will start to learn and benefit from the process. However, there is not much of anything that I can teach you that you can learn in one free class session during a normal class with other students in the class that also need my attention and are paying for it that will let you get a feel for what the total class experience is really like. Sure, you can get a feel for my teaching mannerisms, the general nature of the other students, the training area itself, etc., but really you cannot effectively judge at all as a beginner whether or not you will like it because you will actually have no idea at all what “it” really is. It takes time, dedication, and practice.

Can I pay by the class?

Again, when asked this question, I usually have specific things going through my mind. The short answer is, “No.” My current rates can be found here.  I have two main lines of thought in giving this answer, and I usually give these explanations for those still interested in what I have to say after being disappointed and bothered by my answer of “No.”

  1. Class payments are tuition. As with other tuitions, you pay for the class material. It is up to you to show up and learn. You payments basically fund me to teach. I will show up and will be here teaching. You have to decide if you are really interested in learning, and you have to make the commitment to do so. If you signed up for a college course, you would not be paying only if you showed up to the classroom and not be paying if you did not. Again, I am trying to run a business. I do want your business, and I want commitment from you, not just for my business’s sake, but for your own benefit as well. This leads us into my closely related second thought about this.

  2. As I mentioned in #2 above in the section about trying a class for free, this is not a typical exercise class. This is not like a step class or an aerobics class where you show up, follow along with what the teacher does for an hour, put in your time, go home, and do not think about it or do again until next class where you once again mindlessly follow your teacher’s exercise routine. This is not the kind of class that will give you the expected benefits just from following along in class and doing nothing else with the material outside of class. This is not putting in your exercise time twice a week to increase your level of physical fitness. I am not saying that it will not increase your physical fitness if that is all you do. It will. You will get a work-out from class, but that is not the end goal. This is so much more than just exercise, and there is a huge learning process involved. In class, I am there to teach you, and I will have to teach you the same things over and over again until you start to understand. This is done in the context of choreographed movements which from an outside perspective looks like exercise. At home, preferably on a daily basis, you must practice not only the choreography, but also what I was trying to get you to learn. In your following class, I do check your choreography, which is easily corrected, but I am more interested in if you learned what was being taught. Having an attitude or mindset that you will show up every now and then, paying by the class, when it is convenient for you or when you do not have anything else better to do, will not get you anywhere. You will be wasting your own time and money, and you will be wasting the time of others in the class, as beginner level students require much much more of my attention during class time than those who have already started to grasp what it is that is really going on. If you are an “every now and thenner” you will always be a beginner. If this is what you really want, your money and time will be better spent purchasing a DVD with which you can just follow along.

I hope you now have an understanding of my reasoning behind the answers to those two questions. In the classes I teach, there is a much to be learned. If you have no previous experience, I recommend that you do some research into the topics of qìgōng and tàijí (t’ai chi) to first see if those are things that you think you are interested in enough in order to make a commitment. If so, then just get in touch with me for the class schedule and to let me know when you want to try out one class for free. I look forward to working with you on your journey to a new and better you.

qigong, t'ai chi

Huà (化) – Neutralization

I am a member of a Facebook group called The Kwoon. In September 2013, I suggested that The Kwoon have a monthly video project wherein a topic is picked and members submit their videos on the topic. My hopes were that current and future members of The Kwoon would be able to search a topic and find not only discussion, but also video explorations of these topics, representing many points of view.

October’s topic was Huà (化), often translated as neutralization, and refers to a particular skill or phenomenon in martial arts whereby an attack is rendered neutral.

My video submission gives a brief look at huà. As is often the case, I demonstrate slowly on purpose in order to more clearly try to show what is going on and also to show that I am not just using speed and conventional strength in order to do the tasks within the demonstrations.

In the taijiquan (T’ai Chi) that I do, I arrange my body, especially my joints, in such a way that forces applied to my body flow through my body rather than getting stuck somewhere in my body. If forces were to get stuck or land in my joints, my movements would not be free, and my structure, balance, and power base would be affected by those forces. By allowing the forces to pass through me, I avoid this.

I realize that in Chen style taiji, huà is a specific method involving part of a curve, however, here I am just referring to making the other person’s power not impede what I am doing.

I hope you enjoy the video, and please subscribe to my YouTube channel. Thank you for watching.

me - Brian C. Allen, my business - OMHS

OMHS Youtube Channel

I recently started a YouTube channel for my business.

The purpose of this channel is to give you a look at what I do at Oriental Medicine and Health Services.

(Note:  I have since changed my business name to First Choice Acupuncture, Herbs, and Massage.  I still have the same YouTube channel.)

You can expect videos relating to T’ai Chi and Qigong. These videos can be helpful if you are one of my students, as they may serve as important references. If you are not a student, it will give you chance to see what these practices are like.

I will also be featuring videos from time to time on the main aspects of my business: Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, and Tuina Massage.

I intend on using my videos in combination with Blog articles here in order to provide a more interesting experience for the reader. I hope you enjoy the videos and the upcoming Blog articles that I will be writing.

Here is a link to the main channel page:  http://www.youtube.com/user/OMHSTaijiQigong

Plyoutubesubscribeease subscribe to my YouTube channel by clicking the button to the left. By doing this, you will be kept updated whenever I publish a new video.

Thanks again.

Level 1, t'ai chi, t'ai chi handouts

Zheng Manqing’s (鄭曼青) 37-Posture Simplified Yang Style T’ai Chi Form

Zheng Manqing in snake creeps down.
Zheng Manqing performs snake creeps down

I have compiled a list of the names of the postures of Zheng Manqing’s 37-Posture Simplified Yang Style T’ai Chi form. The names are listed in Hanzi, in Pinyin (with tones), and in English. In order to preserve the formatting of the columns and the Chinese characters, I have provided a link to a PDF file.

This is a Level I handout my T’ai Chi class.

click HERE to download the PDF file


Does Acupuncture Hurt? What Can I Expect?

insert-needleI get this question from people often, especially from new patients on their first visit. I usually give my typical smiley smirk and say, “I’m going to be putting needles into your body. Of course it is going to hurt.” I realize that this is not funny in the classical sense, especially to the patient, but that small bit of absurdity in the midst of the new patient jitters often provides some levity. I follow up with, “Really, though, it’s not that bad.” I then go on to explain in more detail. It is a common enough question, so I thought I would share this information with you now.

There seems to be a popular misconception, especially in America, and perpetuated by mass media, that acupuncture is painless. Well, it is, but it isn’t. It all has to do with the definition of pain and, more specifically, with the Chinese definition of pain as it relates to acupuncture. Acupuncture is from China, after all, and the original phrase stating that acupuncture should not be painful is from China. In China, painful acupuncture would be having a continuous sharp or a continuous burning sensation that does not go away on its own after about one minute. If this happens, it should be brought to the attention of the acupuncturist so that the needle can be adjusted, and then the pain will go away. This does happen on rare occasion, and is just a normal part of the process. So, if it happens to you, do not be alarmed or discouraged, just let your practitioner know when it occurs.

That being said, acupuncture is definitely not sensationless. In fact, some of the normal sensations involved with acupuncture would be thought of as pain sensations by those in American culture. However, those sensations are actually referred to as qi reactions (deqi in Chinese) and are not considered pain by the Chinese definition.

What sensations are involved with acupuncture, then? I will explain, but keep in mind that this is all based on the acupuncture that I do which is based largely on the Chinese TCM model. There are other types of acupuncture with different needling methods, some of which involve no insertion at all.

First, let’s talk about the needles. They are single-use, sterile, disposable, stainless steel needles. I tend to use 32 gauge needles for most applications. That means the needles are 0.25 mm thick, which is very thin. Acupuncture needles are different than the hypodermic needles which are used when we get shots or blood tests. Because they are so thin, around 5 to 10 acupuncture needles can fit inside the tip of a hypodermic needle, depending on the gauges used. Hypodermic needles are hollow and sharp; they cut through the skin and puncture structures (veins, arteries, nerves, etc.) beneath the skin. Acupuncture needles are solid and the tips are relatively dull; they push through the skin and, instead of puncturing structures, will nudge structures out of the way with careful needling. So, do not expect insertion of an acupuncture needle to feel like getting a shot or blood test.

Insertion of the needle is a 2 step process. First, the needle is quickly inserted shallowly so that it gets through the skin. This is done either free-hand, which I do, or with a guide tube, which is also common. It is this initial part of insertion that feels like a pinch. Some people do not even feel the pinch, but the pinch-like sensation usually happens. In sensitive and thin skinned areas, the pinch feeling tends to be more prevalent. In less sensitive and meatier areas of the body, the pinch is less noticeable.

After the initial part of the insertion, the needle then gets inserted deeper into the body to the depth and at the angle that is appropriate for its location and for its purpose. While this happens, a variety of sensations are possible. Some people even feel nothing at all, which I always find surprising because I am very sensitive and feel absolutely everything when being needled. Sometimes only the movement of the needle itself can be felt. However, a common sensation is an ache, pressure, or distended feeling around the needle, as if the needle is much thicker.

This ache is one of the more notable qi reactions. It can come on gradually and be mild, or it can come on suddenly and be very strong for an instant, fading gradually after that. In particular, when it is sudden and strong, Americans categorize it as pain. They typically do not like the sensation. In China, however, it would be typical for a patient to be disappointed if they did not feel that sensation. In fact, once elicited, a Chinese doctor might continue stimulating the needle to prolong and propagate that sensation to the point of having the patient yell at times. Again, the patients expect this as part of a good treatment. It is a different story here. Heavy needling like that would make the majority of American patients question whether or not they should come back for another treatment. Therefore, a much lighter type of needling tends to be done here, and even though I follow the Chinese model, my needling is lighter and more suitable for our culture.

In addition to the ache, there are other common sensations that may be felt. Coolness, warmth, itchiness, and tingly sensations are all possible, too. Also, any of the sensations may be: 1) local, just where the needle is; 2) referred, meaning the needle is one place, but it is felt someplace else; or, 3) radiating, meaning the sensation can travel in any direction away from the needle (most commonly in the direction of the acupuncture channel on which it is located).

Not everyone feels these types of sensations with every needle. Also, what a patient feels during one treatment may not be the same thing felt during the next treatment even if the needles are in the same points. Furthermore, even though these sensations are qi reactions and are an indicator that the acupuncture is doing what it is supposed to be doing, it is actually more important for the practitioner to feel the qi through the needle after insertion. It is because of this that the needle may be manipulated by twisting or pushing and pulling in order to call the qi to the needle and to deliver the proper treatment intent for that point. So, even if a patient feels nothing from a particular needle at a point, as long as I feel what I need to feel, I continue on to needle the next point.

After I feel the qi reaction, in many cases (particularly for functional complaints rather than musculoskeletal or structural complaints) there is no need to leave the needles in place in the patient. They can be removed at that point. However, I tend to leave the needles in, generally anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on many factors. I do this because it is part of the Chinese TCM model, is what I learned in school, and is what is expected by patients getting acupuncture. There is a reason for this.

It is thought that the qi in the body cycles though the various acupuncture channels as connected from beginning to end in about 15 minutes, give or take depending on many factors. Therefore, if an acupuncture needle is positioned properly, but a qi reaction is not felt by the practitioner, the qi will still naturally arrive at the needle at some point during the treatment if the needle is retained.

Many practitioners, especially new ones, are not skilled at connecting the qi to the needle. It is not something that is easily taught. It is a sort of intangible skill that must be experienced in order to fully understand and to replicate. Therefore, needle retention can allow for a more effective treatment. Because of my long-time martial arts, t’ai chi, and qigong backgrounds before I studied acupuncture, I was already familiar with qi, how it felt, and how to manipulate it. This knowledge and experience easily flowed over into my acupuncture practice.

Usually, there is little or no sensation when removing a needle. The patient will often feel either nothing or just the movement of the needle. Sometimes there is discomfort, but it is more or less instantaneous. Also, I occasionally and intentionally elicit another qi reaction as I am removing a needle.

More often than not, there is no blood. In the few instances where there is blood, it is often not more than a small drop and is blotted clean with a cotton swab. Even rarer, a bruise and / or small swelling can occur. If there is a swelling, it can be immediately rubbed out to the point that it will not return, but the bruise will run the normal course of a bruise for you.

It is possible that with certain types of needling, particularly with deep and / or strong needling for structural complaints, the patient will experience some muscle aching for a day or two at the most, very similar to the type of muscle ache one would get from working out too much. This is normal, will go away, and does not take away from the effects of the treatment.

These are the notions that I like to get across to my patients before needling them so that they know what to expect. I try to be thorough, but I keep it basic. I think I have included everything here, but if you have any questions, please let me know.


Can qigong be practiced too much?


I have neglected this blog for far too long. Part of the reason for that is that I have so many different topic and tidbits to share that I never know where to begin, so I put it off.

However, a student recently asked me if she could practice qigong too much. While giving my answer, I decided that I should include that information here. After all, my blog is supposed to be an extension of my website which contains only basic information about what I do and offer at OHMS. My blog gives me a chance to expand and further reveal.

The qigong that I teach is general in a way that works the entire body evenly, and when practiced correctly, there are no dangers of creating blockages or stagnations. Though qigong practices that are specific to certain areas of the body or to certain acupuncture channels do have their uses and benefits, I feel a general qigong practice is going to be more beneficial overall, a better long-term strategy for health, and safer.

So, can one practice qigong  too much?

The short answer is yes and no. Let me explain.

If you are practicing correctly and the qigong that you are practicing is a safe one (not all qigong practices cultivate health or healthy mental states), then you cannot practice too much providing the following circumstances are considered and met also.

  1. You need to sleep. Is your practice interfering with your ability to achieve good sleep? Are you practicing when you should be sleeping? Good sleep is very important and should not be sacrificed for practice.

  2. You need to eat. Is your practice interfering with your appetite or digestive abilities? Are you practicing so much that you neglect eating? Eating good food at regular intervals is another important aspect of a healthy life and should not be sacrificed for practice. Drinking (mostly water) is also included in this notion.

  3. Do not neglect personal hygiene. Practicing to the exclusion of personal hygiene is not acceptable. Personal hygiene plays an important roll in good health that should not be overlooked.

  4. Do not ignore your social, fiscal, or educational duties. We are social creatures, and though some people have more active social lives than others, this edict still applies. If you have friends and family that you normally talk to or hang out with, do not isolate yourself from them or cut ties with them just because of qigong practice. Interactions with friends and family are part of good mental health. Also, if you work, keep working. Do not miss work because of your qigong practice. Do not forget to pay your bills, either. If you are in school, definitely keep up with your studies. Qigong practice can be fit into your free time, even if free time is scarce and at irregular intervals.

  5. Basically, numbers 1 through 4 can be over-simplified as “do not become obsessed.” This is an actual danger of practice. There is also a validly recognized physiological disorder called “qigong psychosis” (aka qigong deviation syndrome). This comes about from too much incorrect practice or from too much or non-supervised practice of more specific (and possibly dangerous) qigong exercises. I will not go into all of the details here, but a decent read on the topic can be found here.

  6. Do not practice while you are ill. I know that sounds a little strange because qigong is supposed to make us healthier, right? Basically, one should not practice during the acute stages of a disease process or illness. For instance, if you are coming down with a “cold,” then do not practice qigong during that time. However, if the acute symptoms of the “cold” are gone but you have a lingering productive cough, you may practice. In fact, the right kind of practice can help to open the lungs and clear the phlegm.

  7. Do not wear yourself out. If you are practicing so much that you are physically worn out and lacking energy most of the time, then you have practiced too much. Even easy, gentle exercises can eventually take their toll. There is nothing wrong with getting a good workout if that is your intention, but you must allow for recovery time.

Those are the main points, and to many they will seem like common sense. However, the above issues are all worth enumerating and explaining. Qigong is a great practice and can do us much good, but there are potential negative results.

My suggestions for practicing qigong are as follows:

  1. Set aside at least 30 continuous minutes to practice qigong. If time and your physical condition allows, 60 minutes or even 120 minutes would be better. This large continuous block of time should constitute your main practice for the day. If you are able to do this twice a day, then that is fine also. Do not let this guideline scare or discourage you. If you can only find 10 or 15 minutes, then use that time to practice because a little bit is better than nothing.

  2. Not everyone can manage to provide for such a block of continuous time each day. Whether you can or not, you can practice more, at shorter intervals, throughout the day. If you have 5 free minutes here, and 10 there, and 3 at another time, then you can utilize those minutes to work on specific aspects of your qigong practice. For instance you can just work on keeping a clear mind, or you can just work on relaxed, slow abdominal breathing. You may choose to just stand and work specifically on relaxing your hips and waist area. You get the idea. Use the small amounts of free time that you have throughout the day to help fine-tune your practice or to help you get over those sticking points. That way, when you do have a larger continuous block of time, your practice can be more meaningful.

That’s about it. Qigong has tremendous depth. There is much to be discovered in even the simplest of exercises, and the more correctly it is done, the more benefits you will get from your practice. Also, practice is the key, so spend as much time practicing as you can. Like I said above, the things I stated here are fairly basic, but I think it helps to have it all spelled out and in one place. I hope this helps you.

If you have any questions about these points, please let me know.

education, me - Brian C. Allen

My Education and the Road to Oriental Medicine


I guess it all started when I was in kindergarten.  I already could read some words and I knew the letters of the alphabet.  However, I didn’t really know the alphabet.  I mean, I didn’t realize they had to be in a certain order.   The teacher pointed to the list of letters above the blackboard and asked the children to recite the alphabet.  There they all were reciting the alphabet, and I felt clueless.  They all had a jump on me, and now, at age 4, I was faced with the monumental task of having to quickly memorize a 26 item sequence – not cool.

I begrudgingly accepted the duty of rote memorization.  I shouldn’t be too down on it.  Rote memorization has its purposes, and it is important.  It is, however, the lowest form of learning and speaks nothing of actual understanding or one’s ability to apply knowledge.

I should point out that only one other person was able to read in my kindergarten class, and she was at least 6 months older than me.  I understood letters and knew how to use them; I just had some initial problems with the rote memorization.

Let’s fast forward to 7th grade.  I took the SATs that year and scored better than the average high school student.  That opened a few educational doors for me:  special classes, accelerated programs, etc.

In high school, I was already taking college calculus in the 10th grade.  I was the guinea pig for the development of the college level physics class at my high school as well.  The rest of my classes were college prep and advanced placement classes.  I did very well in school, but I never developed good study skills.  I understood everything and could figure out anything that was placed in front of me, but I still hated memorization.  More importantly, by this point in my life, I hated the structured environment of the education system, and I hated jumping through hoops.  I hated having to show up for class.  I hated having to read what book they told me to read (I am a very slow reader, also), and to add insult to injury, they would make me write a book report which I also hated to do.

OK, so I was an angry youth.  I really was.  Everybody assumed that I would just go to college and do great things, but I just couldn’t do it.  I was sick of it all.

High school graduation came and went.  September came, and I did not go to college.  However, by the time that February came around, I decided I really had to go college and do something with my life.  I was always a science nut, so I signed on the line and declared my major:  a B.S. in Biology (Biotechnology).  I chose this over physics, which I loved, because I was still totally fed up with math.  Math was easy for me, but it was sort of shoved down my throat, and I was still sick of it.  Biology was cool, but my real plans were for graduate school where I would switch my track to Neuroscience.  The human brain fascinated me, and I wanted to do research work.

Well, I only lasted a year and a half.  I was going to school full-time.  I was working 35 hours a week to pay for it all while living on campus.  I got burned out.  Unfortunately, I was still an angry youth, and I still hated memorization and jumping through hoops.  I knew I could handle the courses and the information, but I had to do it when they said and how they said, and I couldn’t handle that.  In retrospect, I realized that I lacked the maturity required for success at college.

So, from that point I went into the workforce.  I spent a few years working as a bookkeeper (computers + math = easy) at a law firm.  Then, I got into computer aided design, CAD, work and then worked as a technical illustrator (computers + math + art = easy).  However, those were just jobs that paid the bills.  My real life was martial arts.

I worked out anywhere from 2 to 6 hours per day, 6 days a week.  I both practiced and taught kung fu and t’ai chi, did light weight training, and did aerobics.  My goal was to one day have my own business, a large martial arts school.  All along, since early childhood, I was fascinated with Chinese culture.  Martial arts had introduced me to and peaked my interest in the healing arts of the Asian countries also.

Then, one day it happened.  All of a sudden, I realized that a career in Oriental Medicine (Acupuncture and Chinese herbs) was possible.  I never realized that there were Chinese medical colleges in our country.  I always thought that one would have to go to and live in China in order to learn such things.  I was wrong.  There were about 40 accredited Acupuncture or Oriental Medicine colleges across the country.

I investigated the colleges and found out that the ones located in California had the most comprehensive programs, almost double the hours of some of the colleges located elsewhere.  California had its own licensing standards which were higher than those of the National standards.  Acupuncture is well integrated into the medical insurance system in California, and Acupuncturists enjoy primary care physician status.  I figured that if I was going to put in the time, effort, and money (too much money) into this, I wanted to get the most out of it.  I chose the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM) located in San Diego, California because its graduates consistently achieved the highest percentage of passing scores on both the California certification exam and the National certification exams.

It was a 4-year, 3400 hour Masters of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine degree program.  However, I learned that I needed at least 2 years of undergraduate college in order to be admitted.  So, I went back to college.

I was more mature this time around.  Also, I changed my major from Biotechnology to Philosophy.  I figured that if I were going to take classes that weren’t going to matter in my career, I may was well take courses that were 1) very interesting to me, and 2) easy.  I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me in San Diego, so I thought I would take it easy in Delaware.

I was working full time, still working out, and teaching kung fu and t’ai chi.  So, I attended college part-time.  My original plan was to finish the whole Philosophy degree before moving on.  I should note that I had several minors as well:  East Asian Studies, Chinese Language, and Religious Studies.  That plan changed.  The part-time pace was too slow, so with just one year left to finish, I gave up again.  Already having more than enough credits to gain admittance at PCOM, I packed up and moved to San Diego.

The full-time course load at PCOM was quite intense. Originally, I planned on a more normal pace, taking 6 years to finish the 4 year course.  However, I decided to take a full load my first trimester there:  7 classes.  Yes, the full-time schedule consisted of 7 to 8 classes per trimester, with 3 trimesters a year, with a 2 week break between trimesters.  There were 75% more courses than a standard 4 year undergraduate degree.  I found that I was able to handle it that first trimester, and full of passion and excitement, I continued onward at the full-time rate.  It did, however, take me 5 years to finish, instead of 4, because I took a lot of extra courses, mostly in bodywork, but also pediatrics and external herbal applications.  In the end, I graduated with 211.5 credits and a 3.9 GPA.  The only reason it was not a 4.0 is because, once again, I got very burnt out, my health suffered, and I decided on occasion that my health and peace of mind was more important than an “A”.

Sadly, during my time at PCOM, I found myself fighting those old demons.  I found myself hating the process.  I did not want to keep jumping through hoops.  I just wanted to be a practitioner.  Really, I am not a good student.  I enjoy learning, but in my own way and in my own time.  Attendance policies were very strict; tests and assignments were frequent and numerous.  The amount of memorization required was insane.  Have I mentioned that I hate memorization?  This was killing my passion for Oriental Medicine and made me question my dream.

I did find a remedy, however.  I just did even more work.  While everyone else was in study groups working on memorization, I was reading.  Rather than just memorizing the ingredients of an herbal formula, I would read all the commentary on that formula that I could find, not just in the required texts, but in any other texts I could find.  I found myself reading translations of old Chinese medical texts as well as newer texts by some of the great minds in the field today.  None of this was required, but I needed it.  I needed to understand the medicine and know how it all worked, rather than just memorize everything about it.  This helped keep my passion alive.

Ultimately, I found the work easy, but the process was very hard on me.  I guess I am just not wired that way.  I really tried to be the good student.  In the end, though, I am glad that I still did it my way.  I came out of PCOM both learning and understanding much more than what the standard program could offer.  It is also worth mention at this point that out of the approximately 40 people that started the program when I did, only about 5 actually made it through to the end.